It’s not often you’ll see a No. 1 seed with a likely early round MLB draft pick as its centerpiece considered an “underdog” going into a WPIAL championship game, but Shaler coach Brian Junker fully believes his team fits the bill.

Then again, you won’t find many two-time defending state champions listed as No. 2 seeds like Bethel Park is, either. Heck, you won’t find many two-time defending state champions, period — the Black Hawks are only the fourth WPIAL team ever to win back-to-back PIAA titles, and no team has ever won three in a row.

Bethel Park certainly has hopes of becoming the first team in PIAA history to pull off the three-peat, but first comes a monumental matchup of two of the area’s best two-way players and two of the WPIAL’s best teams, when Miguel Hugas and the No. 1 Titans (18-4) square off with Evan Holewinski and the No. 2 Black Hawks (17-4) for the WPIAL Class 5A championship at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Wild Things Park.

“We’re the underdog, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Junker said. “I’ve got nothing but respect for their head coach and their team and their staff.”

Hugas is a 6-3, 210-pound senior and Alabama recruit who doubles as a switch-hitting outfielder and flame-throwing right-hander, and the Venezuela native is generating plenty of buzz ahead of July’s MLB Draft. Hugas hits for average, hits for power, flies around the bases and the outfield, and he has been clocked with a 93 mph fastball as well as a throw of 102 mph from the outfield.

It’s anybody’s guess if or when he will get his name called in the MLB Draft, but Junker believes it would be a travesty if he slid past the first three rounds.

“He’s the real deal,” Junker said. “There’s not a better outfielder in the country. And of course he is also a great pitcher. … He’s a leader. He works hard. He’s special.”

Shaler senior outfielder-pitcher Miguel Hugas is an Alabama recruit who could hear his name called early on in July’s MLB Draft. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Holewinski is a 6-4, 185-pound senior and Kent State recruit who may not have the same hype as Hugas right now in terms of future MLB potential, but few pitchers in WPIAL history have enjoyed more success than he has over the past three years. After missing out on his freshman season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Holewinski has helped pitch Bethel Park to a pair of state titles as a sophomore and junior, including a dazzling three-hit shutout in last year’s PIAA championship win against Selinsgrove.

For his career, Holewinski holds a record of 20-1, and he is 4-0 so far this year with an 0.74 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 52 strikeouts to 13 walks in 47⅓ innings. He can also bring the lumber with the best of them, leading the team with a .469 average, seven home runs and 33 RBIs while boasting a 1.416 OPS.

“Evan is unbelievable. I can’t say enough to enough people. He’s never batted below .400, and his ERA has never been above 1.00,” Black Hawks coach Pat Zehnder said. “Knowing these are two of the best players in the WPIAL, not just pitchers, but two-way players — this is why you play the game, for an opportunity like this. A championship game with two studs going against each other. I’m excited for it. It’s going to be an honor to watch and be a part of.”

Connor Hamrick and Shaler met with Nathan Vargo and Bethel Park in a nonsection matchup on Thursday, March 30, 2023, at Shaler’s Matulevic Field. The Titans won, 5-2. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

In terms of pure star power, this will surely go down as one of the most anticipated pitching duels in WPIAL championship history — but remember, it’s going to take a lot more than one player from either team to decide who brings home the title.

Shaler has overcome plenty of adversity to make it to this point, including injuries to three of its top players in shortstop Brady McGuire, third baseman Alex Venezia and closer Chase Beran. Unheralded players have stepped into key roles seamlessly at several positions, and the Titans have embodied what coaches constantly preach about the “next man up” mentality.

“This is definitely a team of 20,” Junker said. “We use everybody. They all have different roles. … Everybody has stepped it up, like you saw with Derek Leas in the semifinals. He hasn’t pitched like that all year. So somehow I think we’re a better team because of it.”

Bethel Park has dealt with its own share of injuries, but Zehnder said almost all of their impact players will be back to full health in time for Tuesday’s championship clash — including sophomore pitcher Ryan Walsh, a Penn State recruit who recently returned after undergoing knee surgery in January. Sophomore infielder and Northwestern recruit Ryan Petras is another player enjoying a stellar season for the Black Hawks, batting .429 while leading the team with 8 doubles, 17 steals and 25 runs scored.

Bethel Park sophomore Ryan Petras is a Northwestern recruit who excels at both baseball and football for the Black Hawks. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Union Progress).

After a 2-3 start, Bethel Park has caught fire, winning 15 of its past 16 games going into Tuesday’s championship showdown. And with the historic implications of a potential state championship three-peat looming just ahead, Zehnder is making sure his players focus on ending the program’s 36-year WPIAL title drought first.

“We’re well aware of the history that’s possible to happen, and I’m thrilled that we put ourselves in position to have a shot to achieve that,” Zehnder said. “But this is the most important thing for us because it’s the next thing for us.”

These two teams met once earlier this season, with Shaler winning a nonsection showdown at home back on March 30, 5-2. Neither Hugas nor Holewinski pitched in that game, though, and neither coach is putting much stock into it. In fact, Junker said it’s the Titans who are out for revenge, referencing a 2021 WPIAL quarterfinal loss to the Black Hawks, who went on to lose an extra-innings thriller to Franklin Regional in the WPIAL title game before winning their first of back-to-back state titles. That time, Hugas and Holewinski did pitch, and Bethel Park emerged victorious in a 3-2 nail-biter.

Needless to say, this high-stakes rematch more than two years in the making is one you won’t want to miss.

“We’re on the revenge tour,” Junker said. “That game [earlier this season] didn’t mean anything. To be honest with you, I know what they have, and I guarantee you they’re a different team. …  I do know there is a buzz here around Shaler, more so than there was [when Shaler won the title] in 2019.

“I’ve got a feeling there is going to be a huge crowd. I know the Shaler fans are going to be there.”

Junior right-hander David Posey (28) is one of several standout pitchers in North Allegheny’s formidable rotation. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 6A

No. 2 North Allegheny (16-6) vs. No. 5 Mt. Lebanon (12-10) — 7 p.m. Wednesday

Defending WPIAL champion Mt. Lebanon brought back plenty of talent from last year’s team, so it was quite a shock to see the Blue Devils stumble to an 0-8 start this spring. But coach Pat McCloskey has engineered a remarkable turnaround, with Mt. Lebanon winning 12 of its past 14 games to get back to the WPIAL final for the second year in a row.

Waiting for the Blue Devils on other side is a talent-laden North Allegheny team seeking to win its second WPIAL title in three years and WPIAL-record ninth overall. The Tigers feature a star-studded pitching staff that includes J.D. Costanzo, Andrew Hart and David Posey, and West Virginia recruit Spencer Barnett is one of the top shortstops in the WPIAL.

Mt. Lebanon also has a pair of blue-chip hurlers in senior Tyler Smith (Auburn recruit) and sophomore David Shields (Miami recruit), so expect a low-scoring contest where one timely hit or costly mistake in the field could prove to be the difference.

Class 4A

No. 5 Latrobe (17-6) vs. No. 14 Hopewell (11-11) — 4 p.m. Tuesday

Go ahead and classify this one as one of the most unexpected and improbable championship matchups in WPIAL history. Latrobe enjoyed a strong season from start to finish, but few projected the Wildcats to make it all the way to Wild Things Park. And as for Hopewell, the Vikings had overcome a seven-game losing streak in the middle of the season just to sneak into the playoffs with a record of 8-11.

Much like Mt. Lebanon, though, Hopewell is a team with a championship pedigree, only two years removed from winning a WPIAL Class 3A title in 2021. Now up in Class 4A, Vikings coach Morgan Singletary has leaned on the presence of veteran players like Lucas Arrington and Landon Fox to help steer the team back into title contention.

Latrobe knocked off defending PIAA champion and No. 1 seed Montour in a 10-7 slugfest to reach the title game, and the Wildcats appear to have the more potent lineup on paper. But with Hopewell playing the role of Cinderella all postseason, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Vikings pull off one more shocking upset.

Riverside sophomore Christian Lucarelli is a Duke recruit who has tallied 85 strikeouts in 39 innings while helping the Panthers to a 20-0 start entering the WPIAL Class 3A title game. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 3A

No. 1 Riverside (20-0) vs. No. 6 Neshannock (18-4) — 4 p.m. Wednesday

Riverside coach Dan Oliastro has already etched his name in the record books as the WPIAL’s all-time winningest coach, but he might not be done making history yet. The Panthers have a chance to become only the ninth team ever to win a WPIAL title with a perfect record, something Oliastro has never accomplished in 55 years at the helm at Riverside.

Standing in the Panthers’ path to history is a strong and motivated Neshannock team, back in the WPIAL finals in Class 3A after losing in both the WPIAL and PIAA championship games in Class 2A last year. Two of the Lancers’ four losses this season came against Riverside, but it will certainly be hard to beat this team three times in a row.

Neshannock senior Andrew Frye is one of the WPIAL’s most feared power hitters, and the 6-4, 265-pound senior is also a talented pitcher. Still, with Duke recruit Christian Lucarelli on the mound for the Panthers, the Lancers will have a tall task in front of them if they hope avoid another heartbreaking second-place finish.

Serra Catholic’s Isiah Petty and Mike Schanck (27) hope to lead the Eagles to a second consecutive WPIAL Class 2A title. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 2A

No. 1 Serra Catholic (19-2) vs. No. 2 Seton LaSalle (16-4-1) — 1 p.m. Tuesday

Defending champion Serra Catholic finds itself back in familiar territory, as the Eagles will try to win “one for the thumb” for longtime coach Brian Dzurenda. Serra has won four WPIAL titles, one state title and 410 games during Dzurenda’s 23-year stint at his alma mater, and many projected them to be back in the championship game once again from the very beginning of the season.

For Seton LaSalle, it has been two years since their previous WPIAL championship appearance and four years since winning their last title, but the Rebels have been a mainstay at or near the top of the Class 2A pecking order for several years now. New coach Bradley Bestic has managed to uphold the program’s lofty standards in his first year at the helm, but Seton LaSalle won’t be satisfied with simply making it this far — especially with the memories of the Rebels’ 2-1 WPIAL championship defeat against Shenango in 2021 still lingering.

A two-sport standout at Bishop Canevin, Kole Olszewski is trying to add a WPIAL baseball title to the WPIAL football crown he won as a freshman quarterback with the Crusaders. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 1A

No. 4 California (14-7) vs. No. 6 Bishop Canevin (14-3) — 1 p.m. Wednesday

It’s not quite as eye-opening as the championship matchup in Class 4A, but this is still a showdown not many would have projected going into the postseason. California is tied for fourth in WPIAL history with six WPIAL titles, and the Trojans are hoping to capture a fourth WPIAL crown in the last 10 years with a win on Wednesday.

For Bishop Canevin, a win would bring the school its first WPIAL baseball title since 2000, although some players on the team have already experienced the thrill of winning a WPIAL championship in other sports. Sophomore pitcher Kole Olszewski is one of the team’s top players, and he also helped lead the Crusaders to a WPIAL football title as a freshman.

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at